Travel: To Plan a Trip with Room for Serendipity
Monday March 13, 2023

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“The question to ask yourself before [making travel plans/itinerary] is whether you’re conforming to an idea, or choosing what feels personally meaningful and true.” —Sebastian Kodak, “Shred the Bucket List“, WSJ

Spring travel plans are about to commence and schools will be taking their annual spring break, if not already doing so this week, and travel is in the air.

As I begin to make my own plans and set the itinerary for travel later this year, I am reminded of the findings that neuro-scientists and psychologists have found that in fact looking forward and anticipating something we have planned to partake in during a future time increases our happiness in the present moment (source). And so yes, I have been known to plan trips two years in advance (my trip in 2018 to France for a month-long visit), but as wonderful as looking forward to the dream trip is, we actually want the trip to be all that we hope and open to more that we cannot anticipate. How exactly can we plan for something that cannot be forced or made with a reservation?

I share in great detail my Paris Syndrome moment in 2000 in the travel chapter of my latest book The Road to Le Papillon. Without going into specifics here, needless to say, I took great enjoyment of my month-long stay in Angers, where I visited and attended school prior to visiting Paris for the first time, wandering the quiet streets on Sundays, roaming about during the cobbled streets during the long lunches in between classes and nibbling on sweet treats at the local patisserie as frequently as the few francs (yep, francs, while the Euro began circulation in 1999, it wasn’t until 2002 that francs ceased being legal tender) I had on any given day would allow and was surprised when I arrived in Paris and didn’t feel the same, or expected exhilaration I had anticipated.

Holding this lesson in my memory with each opportunity I have to return to France or Britain, I intentionally stretch myself because while I may refer to a travel guide from a trusted source when I return to a destination I have visited before but don’t know well, or am visiting a place for the first time, I have found many of my greatest travel memories come from more quotidian moments enjoyed when I have finally found my vacation rental out in the countryside whether it be Provence or Devon.

With that said, what invites serendipity is contingent upon knowing ourselves. While some of us may never want to return to the same destination on a map twice, others of us (include me in the latter group) may want to do just that. Why? Having some familiarity with the destination, say London or Aix en Provence, when we visit again actually can be grounding and liberating as there is not as much stimulation as there would be during our first visit and thus more peace of mind to explore further and more deeply than we ever could have the first time.

Another point to consider is as the quote above suggests, what would be meaningful to you? Various locales, gardens, architecture and places that denote a historical moment that speak to you or played a role in your own understanding of life, figuring out your life journey, are all reasons that can direct plans when making your itinerary. For example, it is my hope to visit William Morris Kelmscott House in the Cotswolds as his ethos that built the Arts & Crafts movement in the mid-nineteenth century guides my own approach to décor. Similarly, to see the natural beauty of the Lake District where Beatrix Potter pottered away, preserving land and creating her legacy has spoken to me since I was introduced to her and her life story.

However, I share these examples as they are guide-posts, but often what strikes me most profoundly when I am actually living and experiencing my itinerary are the moments that happen around the scheduled event – what piques my curiosity and pulls me to stop, take a detour, rest, slow down, dawdle or make last minute plans to do something I wouldn’t have known about until I was actually there in the town, village or city.

One of my favorite moments in Paris happened in 2019 and was completely unplanned, but occurred as I was walking home from dinner near my accommodations and I saw a chalkboard sign announcing that a young student of music would be performing three of Bach’s concertos in this small abbey, only large enough to hold five rows of chairs, four chairs in width on either side of the aisle. For €20 I enjoyed 90 minutes of this solo cellist’s performance that sang me to sleep after a day that had seen me arrive on my transatlantic flight.

When we leave gaps in our plans, our travel comes to life and offers the priceless insight, discovery and aha moments we cannot plan for, but that affect us deeply and often permanently change our perspective or offer an understanding about our life journey we never knew before.

Whether you prefer to be a traveler or a tourist, perhaps consider being less reliant on the ‘list’ whether you call it a bucket list or any other name, and become a bit more comfortable in not knowing and open to discovering. Each of us will have our own amount of comfort planned to feel secure, for me, I want to know where my head will be resting each night and when my flight will be landing well ahead of packing my luggage to set out on my journey, but then, let go and follow your curiosity, say yes to opportunity.

Speaking of opportunity, sometimes that opportunity will arise while literally on the ground at your destination, but sometimes the opportunity arises before you leave, even being the catalyst for making the plans in the first place. Seize such opportunity. When something crosses your path while reading a newspaper article, watching a program on television, listening to an acquaintance or seeing something on IG that speaks to your interest even if you don’t know why, explore further. This is your curiosity speaking, this is your true self saying, there is something worth exploring. And whether you make the travel plans to see it with your own eyes or not, there is a reason it crossed your path and caught your eye. That is serendipity just as much as happening upon a cellist’s pop-up performance while strolling the streets of Paris.

Wishing you travels that delight and bring many moments of awe so when you return home that quality of your everydays deepens.

Bon Voyage et Bon Courage!

~Image: captured looking out from the villages of Ménerbes in the Luberon region of France in 2018



25 thoughts on “Travel: To Plan a Trip with Room for Serendipity

  1. Shannon, my daughter and I, along with my parents are traveling to Europe in June. This will be my first time traveling outside of the US. I am beyond excited! I have referenced all of your travel guidance along the way while making our itinerary. I mention all of this to say that we are going to traveling to the Lake District to visit Beatrix Potter’s home and then driving down into the Cotswolds to catch a glimpse of Agatha Raison’s town….this is because you suggested the program and I absolutely fell in love with Aggie! We will also be attending the Mouse Trap Play in London. Thank you Shannon, thank you so much! I would not have even known I loved these things without being introduced to them here on TSLL…..beyond grateful and excited!!

    1. Jennifer!! I am soooo excited for you! Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your itinerary and so happy to be able to have inspired or helped in any way. I know you will have an amazing time! How lovely to travel about the countryside. ☺️ Thank you so much again for your comment and sharing! 💛

      1. Dear Jennifer, what a wonderful trip you have planned. May it be all you desire, such a beautiful area of the country! A friend recently returned from a trip to Lima, Peru. After years of travel to many countries, she opted to not take photos and “live the trip.” She said she missed so much by framing photos and finding just the right angle. She did purchase professional pictures from the sites she visited. Shannon is right, the unplanned and sometimes unexpected events in travel are often the best, the most memorable. Have a wonderful time with your family.

        1. Jennifer, how exciting. I hope you have a wonderful trip and enjoy creating many memories with your family.

    2. How exciting Jennifer. You have chosen two beautiful areas of England to visit. While you’re in the Lake district make time to visit William Wordsworth’s house as the Lakes produced some of the most famous poets. His house is in Cockermouth Cumberland now Cumbria. You’ll need some sturdy walking shoes for the Lake district and light waterproofs even in summer.
      Oh the Cotswolds- so.pretty with its distinctive limestone. I love Bourton on the Water, Burford, Cirencester, Tetbury, Gloucester. You’ll be quite close to beautiful Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon( Shakespeare). I’m from England and visited this area numerous times. Have a wonderful holiday. You’ll love it. Kameela😊

    3. Jennifer you will love the Lake District! We liked there a few years ago and stayed in Hawskhead. We seem to have done the reverse of your trip. We spent time in Oundle, the Petersburg, then drove to Chipping Campden and spent several day where we explored the area and went on several long walks. We then drove to the Lake District and did the same. After that we went to the Borders of Scotland, then to Feife, the Edinburgh and finally home. I should add we were gone 3 weeks.
      All of that is to say, have an amazing and safe trip! You will love the UK! There are so many quaint areas in the LD and in the Cotswolds. While in London if you have time visit the VA museum, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey… So many things to see and do.

      1. Hi Jennifer,
        I live in England and have no doubt you will enjoy your visit. The Lake District is superb you are in for a lovely time. If you are a foodie try visiting some of the beautiful coffee shops for morning coffee or partake of afternoon tea! It’s something we Brits enjoy. Fish and chips is another favourite!

  2. Hello-Only once in my life have I been spontaneous in the way that you are describing. i was at a spa and I had a facial . On the music system they were playing Andrea Bocelli music which had just become popular. After the facial was complete the technician said “did you enjoy your trip to Italy?” referring to the music. As soon as I could I purchased that CD and played it for my husband. Right then we decided on a trip to Italy together and it was the most memorable trip we’ve ever taken!

    1. I love This!!! How inspiring and good for you both for following this curiosity filled moment! Serendipity epitomized!! Thank you so much for sharing. You no doubt inspires others to let go a little bit and let life speak to us. ☺️💛

  3. Thanks for this post Shannon. I got many tips from you for going back to England that really helped. My grand niece is doing a long semester in Amsterdam and my sister and me are planning a week visit in April. We have airline and hotel booked but because she will be in class, we have not made other definite plans, so we can see her when available and do some sightseeing. We both love to walk so I think there will lots of just seeing where our feet take us. Hopefully there will be lots of opportunities for spontaneity 😀

  4. How exciting Josanne. You’ll love Amsterdam don’t walk everywhere hire a bike it’s the best way to see the city. Kameela😊

  5. Shannon, your post makes me even more thrilled to be planning an April trip to Paris – my first solo travel abroad. Your philosophy of allowing serendipity is something I value, too. Thank you!

    1. Pamela, you will love it! There is so much to see and do. If you like museums I recommend going online and getting a ticket to the big ones, the Louvre and D’Orsay. Then visit the smaller ones in between. If I may suggest, Musee Rodin, the Musee Carnavalet, JACQUEMART-ANDRÉ Museum, as well as the Orangerie. Take time to walk and enjoy Luxembourg Gardens and to walk along the Seine. Wander in and out of the churches and you may get lucky and experience and impromptu concert.
      Have a wonderful trip!

      1. Thank you so much for these recommendations, Elizabeth, and yes, I do enjoy museums. A few that you mentioned are either already on my list or I have visited before, and I’ll make a point of taking your advice on others. And, your other tips are an absolute must – I find that I encounter the most interesting things while wandering around and observing. thank you, again!

    2. Pamela,

      Have a most wonderful time! Such a beautiful time to be in the City of Light. I am so excited for you and all of the magical moments that you will return home with to hold in your memory. 🙂 xo

      1. Shannon, I’m still reviewing your travel information on the podcasts and posts and I thank you for the experiences and recommendations you’ve shared. You’ve given me confidence to know that I can do this thing I’ve been wanting to do for years.

  6. Pamela how exciting. April is a great time to visit Paris. All the blossoms will be on display.Hopefully by then the strikes will be over and all the rubnish will be cleared. Kameela

  7. So true, my husband and I have enjoyed some of our favourite moments of trips when we simply “bimble” the streets of where we are and enjoy the local spots and food. We are heading to Paris in the next fortnight and though we have plans and bookings made, we always leave time for bimbling about.
    Happy planning your trip. I can truly vouch for the beauty of the Cotswolds having spent lots of time there over the years, and as a Northener, the Lakes are truly a wonder.

    1. Sarah,

      Thank you for speaking to your enjoyment of leaving time while traveling to breathe and (you’ve taught me a new term ☺️) bimble! I love It!

      Have an amazing time in Paris, what a lovely month to be there. ☺️🇫🇷❤️

      1. Happy to share 😊 I’m not sure if it’s even recognised as a word but it’s a term we started using to just describe how we wander a place with little intention other than to see what takes us. Happy bimbling!

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